Welcome to “Get To Know a Nat.” There are currently 39 men on the 40 man roster, and we’re going to give you the straight scoop on all of them! Not sure where to start with player and season previews? Not ready to jump into heavy metrics? Just want to get to know the players, what they do, and what to expect from them in 2013? Then you’ve come to the right place!
Name: David Adam LaRoche (Adam)
Nickname(s): ALR, Rochie
DOB: November 6, 1979 (Age 33)
From: Orange County California
Position: First Base Batting Order: Currently 4th
With the Nats Since: Signed as a Free Agent in 2011, Resigned this past offseason
Adam LaRoche found himself in a strange spot at the start of 2012. In the second year of his contract with the Nationals he was looked down on by many a casual fan because he wasn’t Adam Dunn (fan favorite from two years ago) when he first got here, and he wasn’t Michael Morse (last year’s breakout fan favorite) now. LaRoche was brought in as a defensive upgrade over Dunn at first base (which he is) but many fans (that I was talking too, anyway) heard that as shorthand for “not gonna hit a lot of home runs.” He missed most of his first year with the team because a torn labrum in his shoulder. This was how Michael Morse became a fan favorite at first base. So with the 2012 campaign approaching, what little Nationals fans had seen of LaRoche wasn’t very good or promising.
With his career possibly in the balance, ALR went out and had himself a career year. First, he overcame his notorious tag as a slow starter and more or less was the whole offense for the Nats in April. What’s more, LaRoche never really slowed down all year. LaRoche set a career best for home runs (33) and tied a career best for RBIs (100). He finished 6th in NL MVP voting, and won both the Silver Slugger and Golden Glove awards for first base. With a new two-year, $24M dollar contract, the Nationals made it clear they think LaRoche can repeat at least most of the output over the next few years.
Also, because I don’t know where else to fit this in: His son Drake LaRoche is the stuff of folk song legend.
What’s Expected: What would be nice is if Adam LaRoche went out and had another career year, but it’s doubtful that will be the case. Career years are hard enough to repeat or exceed for a younger player, let alone a 32-year-old. I don’t mean to make that sound old (indeed, I’m older) but there is a lot of evidence that, on average, players over a certain age decline. Nate Silver, before becoming a paragon of political prediction, developed PECTOA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm)– a system designed to help project players stats by finding historically comparable players and seeing what they did. Given that Baseball Prospectus sells their books with these projections in them, I’m hesitant to give away their info (I’m not sure how they’d feel about that), but buying their book is a good investment for any amateur sabermatrician or person who enjoys forecasting. For now, let us muddle through with the regular statistics from Fangraphs:
The numbers in the green are all projections from different sources for LaRoche’s 2013 season. As you can see, no one is predicting LaRoche will have the year he had last year-and he shouldn’t have to. The team, as a whole, should be better overall, so he shouldn’t have to do as much himself.
In addition to the age cliff, and the “it’s hard to repeat” cliff, some of the lower numbers might also be because LaRoche will be batting 5th (most likely) this year instead of 4th. There will be less at bats overall for him this year (because the lineup won’t turn over to the 5th spot as often as it will the 4th spot), and there might also be less people on base for him to drive in this year. Ultimately what is expected is for LaRoche to have years like he was having before he came to the Nationals-or about 80-90% of his offensive effectiveness. He’ll likely be able to play his usual good defense at first base regardless of what he’s doing at the plate. His ability to pick out poorly thrown balls to get outs saved the Nationals several times last year, and it will be needed again this year. If he can do that for the next two years, the Nationals will be happy.
IF IT ALL GOES WRONG: Adam LaRoche’s 2013 campaign looks a bit like the game Cliffhanger from Price is Right. Adam can’t catch up to some pitches that he used to and, when the league figures it out, he gets crushed over and over again at the plate. Suddenly, a potent bat is missing and not easily replaced by the Nationals. In fact, it isn’t replaced by the Nationals because there isn’t a great option to replace him. The Nats might go to Tyler Moore if need be, but there is no reason to believe that he can step in and suddenly be Adam LaRoche. Instead, LaRoche stays in the line up but moves down to the 6th or 7th spot. He’s primarily useful as a defensive player and leader on the field, but first base is a place for a guy with a big bat. He is gone at the end of the year, after a disappointing season that costs the Nationals over the course of the season.
IF IT ALL GOES RIGHT: LaRoche takes advantage of all the opportunities at the plate he did last year and ends up with roughly similar numbers. The position in the line up between Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond makes him a hitter that pitchers have to pitch too-and when you have to pitch to a guy he is eventually going to get pitches he likes. With a potent bat and soft glove, LaRoche once again singlehandedly helps the Nationals win a few extra games this year.